Exhortations to go and see this timeless film are usually based on its treasure chest of quotable lines. “Round up the usual suspects”, “We’ll always have Paris”, “Play it, Sam”, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and so on. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the one where the guy doesn’t get the gal, discovers his soul and wanders off into the gloom with a Nazi-sympathising police chief who may have just had a similar epiphany. Modern Hollywood films often generate a similar tension – can Spider-Man nobly save a cable-car of terrified schoolkids about to hurtle to their death or will he selfishly save his girlfriend instead? And modern Hollywood films generally engineer it so the hero manages both. That’s cheating – and in 1942 director Michael Curtiz and writers Julius and Philip Epstein knew it was. In Casablanca drunken, cynical Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a man broken on the wheel of love, rejects his only chance of happiness (Ingrid Bergman) to help defeat the Nazis. He chooses, he loses. But on a higher, much higher level, he wins. Perhaps Hollywood should take note – 65 years after it was made Casablanca is still, according to numerous polls, more popular than Star Wars, Pulp Fiction or Goodfellas.
© Steve Morrissey 2007